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Track Posts by brucewelch via RSS. Find More Posts by Spinnenmonat. Meier thereby prepared the way for the tremendous influence that British aesthetics would have in Germany by the end of the s. But while Meier stressed the activity of the mind, neither he nor Baumgarten were ready to introduce the idea of the free play of our mental powers as the fundamental source of our pleasure in aesthetic experience. That idea would be decisively introduced into German aesthetics only with Kant's unique synthesis of the preceding German tradition with the British tradition.
Before that was to happen, however, the ideas, more Meier's than Baumgarten's, that art aims at arousing our emotions and at the pleasurable activity of the mind, and at the former as an instance of the latter, would be further developed by an intervening generation of German thinkers.
Let us now turn to some of those. In a review of Meier's Extract from the Foundations of all fine Arts and Sciences , Moses Mendelssohn rejected what he took to be the excessively abstract and a priori method of Baumgarten and Meier, writing that:. He certainly does, but what he aims to do is to show that the perfections that can be realized in aesthetic experience are both more positive and more complicated than those recognized by Baumgarten. Mendelssohn's analysis of the complexity of aesthetic experience places more emphasis on the powers of mind and body involved in such experience than on the objective perfections that art may represent or nature contain.
His account further prepares the ground for the full-blown theory of aesthetic experience as based in a play of our powers that will subsequently be achieved by Kant and Schiller. But in his emphasis on the role of the body as well as the mind in aesthetic experience, Mendelssohn goes beyond his successors. Mendelssohn followed his rabbi from Dessau to Berlin at the age of fourteen.
At twenty-one, he became a tutor in the home of a Jewish silk manufacturer, at twenty-five his accountant, subsequently his manager, and finally a partner in the business, in which he would work full-time for the rest of his life. But by twenty-five Mendelssohn had also mastered not only literary German but Greek, Latin, French, and English as well as a vast range of literature and philosophy in all those languages. He had also become friends with the critic and playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the writer and publisher Friedrich Nicolai, and begun an active publishing career.
In , before he turned twenty-six, Mendelssohn published Philosophical Dialogues on the model of Shaftesbury, On Sentiments , and, with Lessing, Pope, a Metaphysician!
The next year he published Thoughts on Probability and a translation of Rousseau's second discourse On the Origins of Inequality. From to he collaborated with Lessing and Nicolai on the Library of Fine Sciences and Liberal Arts , for which he wrote two dozen reviews of new works in aesthetics and literature, and from to he contributed nearly one hundred reviews to Nicolai's Letters concerning the newest Literature , discussing works not only in aesthetics and literature but also metaphysics, mathematics, natural science, and politics Gesammelte Schriften , vol.
In he published the first edition of his Philosophical Writings , mostly on aesthetics, and in he took first place in a Prussian Academy of Sciences essay competition for an essay on Evidence in Metaphysical Sciences , beating out the entry by Kant. In , Mendelssohn published Phaedo: or on the Immortality of the Soul , loosely based on Plato's dialogue of the same name, an immensely popular work.
His masterpiece Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism , in which he argued for the civil rights of the Jews by arguing that the state had no right to recognize any religion at all and therefore must allow all religions freedom from interference, was published in In , he returned to philosophy one last time with Morning Lessons , a magisterial summary of his own version of Wolffianism. By this time, however, he was caught up in a strenuous controversy with the fideist philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi over whether his lifelong friend Lessing had been a Spinozist. In the midst of this controversy he died of a stroke in January, , at the age of fifty-six.
Mendelssohn worked within the framework of Wolffian metaphysics and psychology, and thus he accepted the definition of sensible perception as clear but confused cognition. But Mendelssohn vigorously rejected any interpretation of the Wolffian premise according to which the confusion of sensible perception itself could be the source of our pleasure in it.
Mendelssohn's explicit thesis is that while the parts of an object must be distinct enough to allow one to have a sense of their variety but dense enough to allow one to grasp them together with equilibrium and proportion, it is the latter that is the source of our pleasure; but it does not seem a stretch to read him as also suggesting that it is the play of the mind back and forth between its perception of the parts and its grasp of the whole that is pleasant.
In this case he would at least be pointing toward the idea that the source of pleasure in beauty is the free play of the mental powers. While rejecting any interpretation of obscurity or confusion as itself the source of our pleasure in beauty On Sentiments , note h; Philosophical Writings , p.
Yet Mendelssohn no more rejects the idea that works of art do arouse our emotions and that they are, at least in many cases, imitations of nature than he rejects the idea that the perception of perfection and the perfection of perception is central to our experience of beauty and other aesthetic properties. So how does he fit all of these ideas together into his own distinctive theory?
Mendelssohn never presented his aesthetic theory in a full-length treatise. We therefore need to supplement what we can glean from this essay with suggestions from On Sentiments and the Rhapsody, or addition to the Letters on Sentiments that he added to his collection. Perfection along any of these axes is a potential source of pleasure in the experience of an object, and the effect of these sources of pleasure can be additive, each increasing our pleasure in the same object. Mendelssohn's characterization of the intrinsic perfection of objects in nature and thus of the objects depicted in representational art follows in the path already marked out by Wolff: the perfection of an object lies in the order, symmetry, and rational coherence of its parts, and its beauty lies in that perfection insofar as it can be grasped in sensible cognition.
In the case of natural objects, this order is comprised by both the internal organization of an object to suit its overall goal and the part that the particular object plays in nature as a whole. When Mendelssohn refers to the capabilities of our soul and the skills of our body here, he is referring to them as objects for depiction or description in a work of art, thus as part of the content of works of art. This is how he fits into his model the representation of human intentions, actions, and responses to them, which are the subject matter of most mimetic art.
The next axis of perfection that Mendelssohn considers is the state of our mind in response to perfection or imperfection in a real or represented object. Mendelssohn answers this question this by saying that. Several points about this passage need comment. It is striking how Mendelssohn writes here in gerundives and infinitives rather than in substantives in order to convey a sense of mental activity: recognizing and approving or even disapproving are actions of the mind in knowing and desiring.
We enjoy that mental activity, even when it is stimulated by the representation of something of which we disapprove, and we enjoy the representation even of something evil as long as our pleasure in the activity of representing is not overwhelmed by disapproval of the object of the representation. The contrast between perfection or imperfection in the content of a representation and the enjoyable activity of the mind in representing that content is the heart of Mendelssohn's theory, so we can interrupt our catalogue of all four of the axes of perfection that he recognizes for some comments on this contrast.
The first thing to be noticed is that Mendelssohn here emphasizes the engagement of our powers of both knowing and desiring in aesthetic experience, not merely the power of knowing. This gives him room to add an emphasis on our enjoyment of the arousal of our emotions to Baumgarten's emphasis on our enjoyment of the perfection of sensible cognition.
Now, as we saw, Baumgarten in fact made room for this dimension of aesthetic experience in his early Meditations on Poetry , even though he did not take it up again in the Aesthetica , and Meier emphasized it in several of his works. Thus, contrary to Wolff, Mendelssohn does not suppose that what we enjoy in imitation is accuracy of representation taken to the point of illusion, but rather the room for the experience of our own mental activity that the knowledge that the depicted object is only being imitated allows.
In fact, Mendelssohn's analysis of our mixed emotions in the experience of tragedy is even more subtle than this, for a further aspect of it is that our knowledge that we are experiencing represented rather than real people allows us to enjoy sympathy with the perfections of the noble characters who are depicted rather than pity at their weaknesses or at the fate that overcomes them. But rather than pursuing this, I want to make to make one further point about Mendelssohn's general account of our enjoyment of the engagement of our powers of knowing and desiring.
There he says that.
We know nothing of the real Sophocles or of the insights he may have had into his own self. Illustration of a character from the opera--title page; glossary with definitions of terms and names from Hindu mythology found in text--p. Modern readers have been too much influenced by Werther and its imitations. Sie zeigen auch, wie dringend innere Bilder nach Gestaltung suchten. Blank verse was regarded as difficult and almost intractable: it was to be another twenty years before it was generally accepted in Germany.
This passage is often thought to be that from which Kant derived his conception of the disinterestedness of judgments of taste. And it may well have been. By introducing this faculty, he wants to emphasize that the experience of beauty or other aesthetic qualities is not actual knowledge, nor does it lead to specific desires and actions except perhaps the desire to be able to continue contemplating an object already found to have been beautiful. But what satisfies the faculty of approval is still the activity of the other mental powers.
Ordinarily, the faculty of cognition aims at truth, and the faculty of desire aims at action. The faculty of approval, however, aims just for the pleasing activity of the other two faculties without their usual results. The faculty of approval should be distinguished from the faculties of cognition and desire, since it does not aim at the same results they do.
Mendelssohn's introduction of the concept of play here may be just as influential for the development of Kant's aesthetics as is his insistence that the faculty of approval does not lead to actual knowledge or actual desire. In the Morning Lessons Mendelssohn does not emphasize that the free play of the mind has a pleasing effect on the body, but he does in his earlier writings, so let us now return to this third item in Mendelssohn's catalogue of the axes of perfection in aesthetic experience.
In other words, although as a rationalist metaphysician Mendelssohn maintains the formal distinction between the mind and the body the mind is simple and indivisible, while body is essentially divisible , as a psychologist and aesthetician he nevertheless sees them as in the most intimate interaction, with the perception of harmony by the body infusing the mind with a pleasant sense of harmony that then further stimulates the harmonious condition of the body. In explaining this source of pleasure, Mendelssohn also makes another revision to the traditional theory that it is resemblance alone that is the source of our pleasure in imitation, because resemblance is easily produced by means far less complex and admirable than all of the faculties that go into artistry — a point that Plato had already made when he had Socrates argue that if it is mere imitation that the artist were after, he could just go around with a mirror Plato, Republic , Book X, d-e :.
Mendelssohn explicitly recognizes the physical skills as well as the mental powers of the artist as among the perfections that we indirectly admire in admiring the work of art; this is another example of his recognition of the close connection between mind and body in spite of their metaphysical distinction. However, although human artistry may concentrate beauty more than nature does, that hardly means that artistic beauty is in all regards superior to natural beauty.
The arbitrary signs could also be called conventional. In the case of rhetoric, moreover, there was a long tradition going back to antiquity of formulating rules for how persuasion can be achieved, and perhaps this made it seem like more of a science than an art to Mendelssohn.